July 1, 2013
A You’re Adorable
When I think of my teens as newborns, I can remember swaddling them, gazing into their eyes and never tiring of how adorable they were. I also remember getting lots of advice about how much I should hold them, how I should let them “cry it out”, how I shouldn’t rock them to sleep. It was hard to sort it all out, so I just tried to read their cues and give them what they needed.
It wasn’t until they were older that I found out those hours of “gleaming and beaming” with my babies served a very important purpose (thanks to my friend and OT Kim Barthel). That interaction between baby and parent activates a tiny area of the baby’s brain, called the right OFC (=orbitofrontal cortex). This area is responsible for the beginning of emotional control – it helps a baby control their emotional responses to all the sensory information flooding their brain. This ability to control our emotions is the beginning of self-regulation. Self-regulation is a precursor to attention and learning (and one of the things they learn about is movement!). The study of the changes that occur in the baby’s brain with relationship is actually a whole field of study – the neurobiology of attachment.
Children with special needs may have difficulty getting to a place where they can gleam and beam – motor difficulties, sensory processing challenges and pain can all create stress, which increases the influence of the sympathetic nervous system. SNS dominance interferes with the ability to participate in relationship. This can be difficult for parents but when they can match a baby’s mood, level of involvement and can follow their lead, then attachment develops.
Therapists who treat babies can have a large influence here. When we read the baby’s cues and follow their lead, we can help to facilitate attachment within the therapeutic relationship. We can address SNS dominance and facilitate a calming of the nervous system through touch and movement. In this way, the relationship between baby and therapist supports the child in feeling safe enough to take risks when moving their bodies in space. Talking and modeling this interaction during therapy also supports the parents in connecting with their baby.
The bottom line is that relationship wires a baby’s brain. With balanced and consistent interaction, this process sets up a baby’s ability to self-regulate their emotions and builds attention for all kinds of learning. Who knew that all that could develop simply from being adorable?
When you are treating a baby, watch their eyes. When they make eye contact with you, engage with them. If you get close or your voice/facial expression is animated and they look away, take a break and wait for them to look at you again before continuing. If they consistently look away when you get close or when you are animated, take that as a cue and give them a little more space or keep your voice/facial expressions a little calmer.
photo credit: www.everydayfamily.com